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Warmer weather raises concerns of safety on the street

Residents, businesses report increase in number of sex workers downtown.

Martha Riva fears for her safety and that of others as she’s noticed the number of prostitutes in her downtown neighbourhood has increased.

“I go out walking the other night and I see them,” said Riva, who’s lived with her husband in an apartment building on 223rd street for the past seven years.

“Lots of street workers standing here. It’s menacing.”

Riva, a health care worker, believes the number of sex trade in Maple Ridge has increased in recent weeks.

“You just open your doors, step out and there’s the hookers there,” she said. “I like to walk anytime I want to. This is Canada.”

Several local businesses have also noticed the increase in sex trade workers downtown.

Kelly Pliner works at the Vernon and Thompson Law Group and sees them the corner of 119th Avenue and 223rd Street.

“I see them in the day, at night, all the time,” she said. “Sometimes old faces disappear and new ones come in, but they all come back eventually.”

She’s heard from law office clients complaining about being approached outside the office at all hours of the day.

“They’re out at eight in the morning. I don’t know what kind of business they get at eight in the morning, but they obviously get something,” Pliner said. “My husband works in Surrey and even he comes up and says ‘wow, that’s bad.’”

Pliner said that the RCMP tells people to call if they feel uncomfortable or see anything suspicious, but claims that they don’t do much.

Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, who also owns a downtown business, has been aware of the problem for years, said the municipality continues to work on the issue.

“There was a process a couple of weeks ago, when police went into the bush area just to the southwest of the [Haney] bypass behind Catalina Pools and the Caring Place and moved people out of there,” he said.

Masse believes several happenings have decreased the number of sex trade workers in the area.

“I think that’s partly due to a few changes in policing practices, and council approving things like the Alouette Heights project at 222nd [Street] and Brown.”

Ineke Boekhorst, executive director at the Business Improvement Association, doesn’t think prostitution in the area is any worse than before.

“There’s a lot of people hanging around in that area. It’s not always proven that they are what people perceive they are,” she said.

“If somebody walks around in shabby clothing, people perceive it immediately as a homeless person or a street worker. It’s not always the case,” she added.

“There’s no bylaw against what they’re doing. They’re just on the corner of a street. As long as they’re not engaging in business they have just as much right to be there as you or I.”

Boekhorst believes that much of the panic may simply be a change in weather.

“Perception and actual facts are two different things.”

RCMP patrol the area, but have not seen an increased number of reports regarding sex trade workers recently.

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